Language Learning Advice From a Polyglot Veteran (Bilingual Interview with Judith Meyer)

In this interview with passionate polyglot Judith Meyer, she shares how she learnt over 14 languages, how you can get over the intermediate plateau, and why learning any other language than English takes a little passion.

We talked about

  • what excites Judith about leaving the textbook behind
  • how to get over the intermediate plateau
  • why using your language is the key to making progress
  • what language learners can get out of events like the Polyglot Gathering

Oh...and we did it in two languages! Listen in to find out more.

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5 Reasons Why You'll Love Learning German in The Mosel Valley (A Big Announcement)

Dear Fluent Reader,

I'm so excited about what I'm about to reveal to you, but first of all let me take a second to honour you as a reader of this blog.

For the last four years, I've spent over 1000 hours teaching the German language to learners all around the world.

I have had the privilege of writing this blog for you guys, recording the Creative Language Learning Podcast and connecting with incredible language learners. You were here when I quit my job, wrote my first book, published new courses. Pretty cool.

But you know what? We've never yet had the chance to meet in Germany.

A Bold New Step For German Learners

Here's what's happening: Fluent Language is going to be hosting the first ever Fluent German Retreat in October!

I am so excited about this - the event is where I'll be showing you live how you can switch into "Deutschmodus", make 10x the progress of a usual week and have an unforgettable experience.

This is the most daring teaching step I've ever taken, and I'd love for you to be part of it.

Of course I'm also hoping that it will be just the beginning, with more languages, events and retreats to follow.

Why a Retreat?

If you're a dedicated language learner, you probably spend dozens of hour staring at books and screens. I know what that feels like.

It is undeniable:

Every language learner reaches the point where they are sick and tired of repeating the same activities. The point where it's time to bring your language skills to life. You're lusting for a new experience, a language immersion that can offer that coveted German breakthrough.

You can take language courses. But as you already know, simply learning in a classroom isn't enough. It also isn't what I dreamt of offering you, because I have been dying to show you how awesome my Germany is.

With the Fluent German Retreat, you can sign up for an unforgettable week of language immersion right in the heart of German wine country.

This experience is about taking a break from your usual life, switching gears and entering your own German mode. I'll be leading the experience, building up your speaking skills, supporting you with my years of experience and knowledge.

Discover Germany's Hottest Destination

Our amazing location, the Mosel valley, deserves its own moment of attention on our blog, considering it must be one of Germany's most thrilling landscapes. It's truly special, and it's also my own home which I cannot wait to share with you.

Allow me to tell you more about what makes this place the best location for you to learn German:

  • This region is hot in traveller circles right now. It was #34 on The New York Times's list of 52 Places to Go in 2016. Imagine telling your friends about how you learnt German on a wild stretch of German river, sipping the wine that was grown there..
  • This is fairytale Germany! You'll get lost in the charming Gassen of Bernkastel, chat to winemakers at a wine tasting and disccover ancient Roman amphitheatres and city gates in Trier - all in your target language.
  • The city of Luxembourg - a Unesco heritage city and polyglot paradise speaking 3 official languages - is only 20 minutes away.
  • If you're the active type, I'll have some amazing hiking trails to recommend to you. And if you not, you'll love kicking back on a relaxing boat tour.
  • The Mosel has been renowned for the quality of its wines for thousands of years. It is wine heaven. And we've all heard that language learner's wisdom about speaking more easily with a glass of wine in your hand.

Ready to hear how you can join us on the Retreat and have that German breakthrough?

You Are Invited To This German Experience

  • Are you a German learner ready for a week of immersion, fun and relaxation?
  • Does the prospect of speaking German for 5 days make you feel energised and excited?
  • Do you want to start speaking to native Germans and boost your speaking skill by 50%?

If you said yes to these questions, then it's your perfect time to join the Fluent German Retreat.

There are only five places available, and at the current time the applications have opened and are coming in. So if you're interested and would like to secure your spot, make sure you complete the no obligation RSVP form quickly to avoid disappointment.

It's so exciting to have put this event together and to open it up for your applications. Let's meet each other in Germany!

How To Get Germans to Speak German To You

One of the most common questions I hear from you guys is how to deal when other people refuse to practice your target language with you. I'm excited to present some awesome advice from Anja at The Germanz in Australia.

Matching this awesome topic, I've created the new guide Make Your German Sound Amazing, featuring 26 Key Phrases For Conversations with German Speakers. Just click on the little black button here to download it and use it alongside Anja's tips.

Germans and their love for English

When you get lost in Australia, the States or the UK and ask for directions, people will most likely answer in English. When you get lost in Germany, people will most likely answer in English too. 

Studies suggest that (only) 62% of the German population is actually able to hold a conversation in English and most movies and TV shows are still dubbed into German. In fact, most German customers still prefer things the German way and speaking German is still a necessity no matter where you live in Germany (with the exception of Berlin).
 
So why is it that German learners complain that Germans respond to them in English? 
 
What if I told you that you don’t just have to take it? No doubt, you can help Germans stay on track and chat away in German for ages. 

I’m German myself and I’m going to tell you about a few easy things you can do.

Why Germans Switch To English

Germans switch to English for three reasons. 

  1. Sometimes they want to help you
  2. Sometimes they want to help themselves
  3. Sometimes they just prey on the vulnerable and make you the practice tool

But most of the time, they just don’t know any better. 

1. They want to help you

Sometimes Germans simply think it’s being polite. They want to help you communicate more efficiently.

When you ask them, “How goes you? I not finds the station train”, they will most likely help you out in English without speaking a word of German. ‘Oh, that’s cool, they tried in German. They’ll probably understand better when I tell them where to go in English!’, the efficient mind will think.

Germans love speaking English, even when speaking German. Even though many Germans learn at least one foreign language in school, some of them fail to remember that only practice makes perfect.

Additionally, some seem to forget that the comprehension skills of a learner usually outweigh their speaking abilities.

The innocently English speaking German simply doesn’t get that you may understand, that it would be polite and helpful to respond in German. It’s like they buried their teenage memories somewhere in the deepness of their minds, along with that sneaky first kiss behind the school building.

Germans will think you just want to break the ice by saying a few words in German. They will return that favour and will try to make the conversation as unconditionally comfortable as possible for you. In English.

2. It's easier for them

But Germans are not always driven by lovely innocence. Some Germans are simply not patient enough: ‘It will be quicker and easier if I just tell them in English. I’m almost late already!’
If their guesstimate places your German skills below their own English proficiency, they might respond in English.

For Germans, it’s all about communicating efficiently. No overexcited small talk, no politely beating about the actual topic, no exchange of unnecessary information, but rather direct communication, cutting to the chase and getting this question answered as accurately and quickly as possible. In English.

3. Germans want to practise their English skills

Of course, let’s face it, a few Germans simply want to practise their English on you because they know how awesome it feels to finally speak in your language of choice. 

Moreover, they want to show off how good their English is to impress you (and others). They are going to take advantage of you. 

Imagine how convenient, they don’t even have to leave their country to get what they crave. Speaking English. ‘Perfect! This guy from England gets to speak German every day; doesn’t he live here in Germany?’ 

They quickly forget that a lot of others see their opportunity as well, and this poor guy from England and his German skills fall by the wayside.

Here’s what you should do, as well as what you should avoid, to keep up the conversation in German. 

How to Make Them Speak German

How can you fulfil your dreams and get those Germans to speak in German to you? Embrace these two rules that everything boils down to:
 
1. Speak no English to Germans

And

2. Make your German sound better than it is.

These two rules are the magic tricks that will lead to a happy life in Germany. 

Let’s have a look at how to put them into practice with concrete examples and workarounds.

Respond in German

To really cash in and get the Germans speak German, you want to stay away from English as much as possible.
 
Certainly, it will take some courage especially when you think your German is not good enough. But you know what? The Germans will work it out. If they don’t get what you mean, they will ask (in English or German, it doesn’t really matter). 

But if you’re asked, you’ll get a second chance to say it. You may even get some valuable feedback.
 
More importantly, when someone starts speaking English to you, just keep responding in German. 

If your German is already good enough, try to translate the English response into German and say it back to them in German. Be patient and stick to German to get them back on track, no matter what.
 
If you don’t understand, ask them what it means, in German

Once more, under no circumstances switch to English.
 
If you can’t remember the word and you really need to know it, do the following:

Describe the word in German and ask them about the correct word.

  • Was heißt nochmal das eine Pedal im Auto? -Nein, das andere. Ach, ja, das Gaspedal. - What would you call that one pedal in the car? -No, the other one. Ah yes, the gas pedal.) or

Ask them for the translation in German.

  • Wie heißt nochmal ‘dog’ auf Deutsch? - What’s the word for ‘dog’ in German again? 

Work on your pronunciation

As Germans like to switch when they think that communicating with you might not go too smoothly, how about you make your language skills less of a problem? 

If Germans think that you’re comfortable speaking in German, they are less likely to switch.
 
One way of making your German sound better than it is, is to be amazing at pronouncing things. Just practice the proper pronunciation and know how the intonation pattern of a sentence works.

Use phrases and conversation fillers

You could also use phrases and conversation fillers to make your responses sound more natural. 

The idea is again that we want to make our German sound better than it is. It’s like saying, “Keep going, nothing to see here”.
 
To keep up the flow when speaking, it’s a great idea to have handy the vocabulary you will need. But also don’t forget that natives use clichés and filler words, and they say ‘uhmm’ a lot. 
 
Here are some examples:

  • Ach wirklich/Echt? - Ah really?
  • Cool!
  • Macht nichts!/Kein Problem. - That’s alright!/No problem.
  • Hört sich gut an. - Sounds good.
  • Ach so. - Ah yea.
  • Stimmt!/Genau - I agree./Yeah, that’s right.
  • Na ja, vielleicht. - Yeah, maybe.

Compromise

Let’s face it, sometimes there’s no way that subtle hints will get them back on track. 

Please don’t take it personally, they might not even notice. The only thing that will help here is to be very clear about your goals, about genuinely wanting to learn proper German.
 
Apart from saying “Bitte nur in Deutsch”, you can decide to blitzkrieg and offer a language tandem. Your compromise could be
 
One hour speaking in German, another hour speaking in English.
 If you see them every day, you could agree to speak English from Monday to Wednesday and German from Thursday to Sunday.
 
If the two of you agree to correct each other properly and also provide alternatives for certain sentences and phrases, you could both benefit from the language tandem quite a bit.

Make (new) German friends

As your language skills progress, you’ll be able to chat away on more and more topics. You will be developing your ‘German You.’ It may be the same as — or completely different from — the English-speaking you.
 
With your ever-improving skills, making new German friends will become a lot easier.
 
If you have moved to a German-speaking country, you’ll hit the jackpot by joining a club (der Verein) in the German countryside, but clubs can be found anywhere across Germany, even in the big cities. Similarly, you want to get involved and lend a hand at the local Tatort night, the German-speaking weekly handcraft meeting or the local climbing hall.
 
Try to maintain a healthy ratio of English-speaking and only-German-speaking friends. You have a choice among about 100 million German native speakers in the European Union alone.
 
Don’t forget, the more you get to speak German, the easier it gets. Just let Germans know you’re up for a challenge. They will be up for it as well. 

Summary

In summary, please don’t get turned off by responses in English, keep learning German and remember these two fundamental rules: 

  1. Don’t speak English to Germans.
  2. Make your German sound better than it is.

On a concrete note, you could:

  • Always reply in German.
  • Ask for missing words and explanations in German.
  • Improve your pronunciation.
  • Use conversation fillers and ‘uhm’ a lot.
  • Compromise by offering language tandems.
  • Move to the German country.
  • Make (new) German speaking friends.

You’ll find more nifty tricks on learning and speaking German on my German language blog. 

Don’t forget to tell me in the comments about your favourite strategy in dealing with English speaking Germans. 

This article was written by Anja. Anja lives in Melbourne, Australia, is originally from Germany and writes about the German language and culture on her blog when she is not busy teaching German language classes. Hang out and have a chat with her on Google+ or Twitter.

Grammar ♥︎ Practice auf Deutsch: 3 Twists That Trip Up German Learners (And How to Overcome Them Easily)

german language lesson

Before I dive deeper into German grammar for this week's useful blog post, I want to take a minute to say "I know!" to all of you who think that German is a hard language to learn. Today's article is about to prove that you guys are not entirely wrong. Yes, the German language has some Tücken (twists).

But read on to discover how to get over each of these twists without ever worrying about them again.

Just like I did in our French Grammar Practice, I've selected 2 topics for German beginners and 1 twist for advanced learners. So there's something here for everyone.

Twist #1: sie is not Sie is not sie

The little words that can take the place of a noun or a name in language are called pronouns. They are placeholders that make it easier for us to communicate - just imagine how that previous sentence would work if I didn't have the words "they" and "us" for example! When you learn a foreign language, you start picking up its pronouns very early.

In German, this is particularly true as the verb doesn't do all that much by itself. The way pronouns are used is pretty similar to English, but here's the sting: 3 German pronouns look similar when they are not similar at all. I'm talking about the word sie, which you'll spot 3 times in the German pronoun table.

Many German learners are aware that Sie is the polite "you" in the German language, addressing a person from a point of distance or respect. It's corresponding to the French vous in this way. But if you think that's all you need to understand sie, it is time to take a look at the full verb table:

german verb table

Sie pops up three times, but each time this word stands for a different person. There is more to it than just the polite "you".

There are three different kinds of sie

  • It stands for the female 3rd person singular pronoun - that's "she" in English

Examples:
Sie heißt Melanie. - Her name is Melanie.
Das ist meine Schwester. Sie kann auch Spanisch. - This is my sister. She speaks Spanish too.

  • It stands for the 3rd person plural pronoun - that's "they" in English

Examples:
Sie kommen aus Deutschland. - They are from Germany.
Das sind meine Geschwister. Sie können auch Spanisch. - Those are my siblings. They speak Spanish too.

  • It stands for the polite "you" (grammatically that's also the 3rd person plural, kinda like addressing a royal "we")

Sie kommen aus Deutschland, Frau Krämer. - You are from Germany, Ms Krämer.
Wie heißen Sie? - What is your name?

How To Know The Difference

The first distinction is so easy to spot that I wouldn't even call it a "language hack". When you see Sie and the first letter is a capital letter, it's the polite you. Make sure you use it this way in your writing too.

If you're in a conversation (and you can't hear the capital letter), check out what the verb is doing.

When the verb ends in -t, you're looking at a "she".
When the verb ends in -en, it's most likely "they" or "you"...and then you have to figure out what the sentence is about and take other clues.

Twist #2: Prefixes are Everything

If you're going to learn one thing about German at an early stage, it's that the little things make all the difference. For example, take the concept of the separable verb. At the heart of it, you've got a verb like machen (to make, to do) or kommen (to come). Add a little prefix (usually 2-4 letters) to the verb, and suddenly you've twisted the meaning.

The good news here is that learning prefixes pays off a billion times over, as you'll be able to add them to pretty much any verb going to make yourself understood in spoken German. Prefixes split off when a verb is used in the sentence, so make sure you look out for them at the end of the sentence. So in other words, the final word in a sentence is very important in German. Sometimes it can twist the whole meaning.

Check out the following video from my German Grammar video Course for a detailed explanation.

Here are a few example sentences:
Wir kommen am Freitag. - We're coming on Friday.
Wir kommen am Freitag an. - We're arriving on Friday.
Ich komme heute. Er kommt am Freitag nach. - I'm coming today. He'll follow on Friday.
Wir fahren nach Berlin. Kommst du mit? - We're going to Berlin. Are you coming?

Test Yourself

How many words can you spot that carry the prefix auf? When you think of it's generic meaning "up", how many meanings can you guess from the following list?

  • aufmachen
  • aufgehen
  • aufstehen
  • auflegen

Let me know what your guesses are in the comments.

Twist 3: For Advanced Learners, werden becomes complex

The dictionary meaning of the German verb werden is "to become", plain and simple.

But watch out for two other ways that the verb is used. It teams up with another verb to build two advanced structures.

When werden works with another verb, the sentence structure is always:

Subject + werden + (any adverbs) + (any object) + the other verb

The other verb is what's really happening. If it stands in the infinitiv (that means it's not changed at all from how you find it in the dictionary), the sentence is in the future tense. For example, Ich werde etwas essen means "I will eat something". If it stands in the participle (this is that past tense form with ge-), then you're looking at the passive voice! For example, Etwas wird gegessen is not future tense at all

Examples:

Ich werde nach Berlin fahren. - I will drive to Berlin.
Ich werde nach Berlin gefahren. - I'm being driven to Berlin.

Ich werde den Käse kaufen. - I will buy the cheese.
Der Käse wird gekauft. - The cheese is being bought.
Der Käse wird gekauft werden - (combining future and passiv) The cheese will be bought.

So whenever your form of werden pops up, pay attention and make sure that you don't end up confusing future and passive. They're pretty different.

How to Escape The Werden Trap

One easy tip to speak German without the pains of werden is to avoid using the future tense altogether. That's what native speakers do all the time, simply using the present tense together with words like morgen (tomorrow) or gleich (in a minute). It's so simple, it's practically Chinese grammar! (Someone once told me Chinese doesn't have conjugation. I was like "whoah"!)

Where To Look For More German Grammar Explanations

If you're studying German grammar in your first year, you will find answers to every grammar question in my video course Easy German Grammar for Beginners. It contains dozens of simple videos, quizzes and workbooks to help you become a confident speaker.

For advanced learners, the best grammar book I know is Deutsche Grammatik, supported by a great website and useful tables. It's helped me explain so many rules in clear terms, and was a support when I made the full video course.

Which Parts of German Grammar Do You Find Tricky?

Word order, verbs, cases...there's a lot to discover in German grammar. Has any of it tripped you up? Let me know in the comments!

The Hottest German Lesson in Town: Deutschland 83 and Major Tom (PLUS Free Lyric & Vocab Sheet)

One of the most wonderful things about learning a foreign language is to get to know the country behind that language. What is beyond the flashcards? What makes that place? It's awesome to dive into history and geography, cook a few recipes (like Shannon from Eurolinguiste) and of course discover what they watch and listen to.

If you're a regular listener of the Creative Language Learning Podcast, you may have already noticed that there is a new German language TV show on the block. Deutschland 83 is a spy drama set in one of my favourite periods of German history: the 1980s, right in the cold war. You can catch it on iTunes, on Amazon, or currently on Channel 4 in the UK.

german lesson deutschland 83

German History: Spies, Terror and Economic Miracles

So here's the world at the time of Deutschland 83: Germany lost a world war and then the Eastern part of the country was made into a Socialist republic. The West started a kick-ass economy that went so well it became known for its Wirtschaftswunder, the economic miracle of the 1950s. In the 1960s, youth rebellion and peace movement shook our society, and Western Germany even struggled with its own terrorist group, the Red Army Faction. All the while, the Eastern part of Germany was locked away behind a wall and involved in the hottest army race of the 20th century: the Cold War.

Plenty going on at the time of Deutschland 83 then! The show's premise places a young Eastern German soldier into the West, where he's given a new identity and a bunch of adventurous spy tasks. It shows society in the West and East, the big fear of atom bombs laying waste to all of Europe, and a few hilarious scenes where a confused bunch of high-level spies stare at a floppy disc, wondering what it does.

Discover Germany's Answer to David Bowie

One of the unmissable things about Deutschland 83 is its awesome soundtrack. Let me introduce you to its theme song "Major Tom", Germany's synth driven response to the wonderful David Bowie. I've prepared a lyric sheet for German learners which you can download below.

Major Tom, written by Peter Schilling, was inspired by Bowie's song "Space Oddity", which tells the story of an astronaut abandoning his mission, decoupling from base and going off to live in space.  In Germany, the song became a huge hit and one of the flagship sounds of Neue Deutsche Welle, the biggest 1980s pop music trend which also included Nena and her famous song "99 Luftballons". In fact, if you pay attention in episode one of Deutschland 83, you'll hear the song playing in the background at a party in East Germany (where playing Western music would have been an offence!).

Germans have never stopped loving Major Tom, and today there is no good beerfest without everyone shouting völlig schwerelos (completely weightless) and waving their hands about.

Bonus: Major Tom in French

Major Tom's fame was all over Europe in the 80s, so if you're a French learner you can use the same song for study. Here's the cover by Belgian synthmeister Plastic Bertrand (of Ça plane pour moi fame) will make sure that you don't miss out.

If you're listening to this song and can't shake the feeling that you know it from somewhere, it might be because Deutschland 83 is not the first show to feature Major Tom. If you're a fan of AMC's "Breaking Bad", you might remember the Gale Boetticher version - are those Thai subtitles?

Share Your Playlist

I'd love to hear from you about your own favourite 1980s tunes. Do you love pop music like Major Tom? Tell me about your playlist in the comments.

If you love the sound of Major Tom, don't forget to download your free Vocab & Lyric Sheet. 

You can also check out this article to get a step-by-step guide to using music for language learning.